There has been quite a stir that was caused when a NON-geocacher stumbled upon my geocache in Lebanon Hills Park on Sunday, May 17th. While on the phone discussing it with Sgt. Brian McGinn, of the Dakota County Sheriff's Department, he made it clear that he was dismayed and that he is pursuing charges (in the form of a citation) because of the incident. It was at that point when I realized that this has nothing to do with geocaching and everything to do with saving face. Saving face in the sense that law enforcement feels that someone should have to pay, either monetarily or symbolically, for their complete lack of due diligence before mobilizing expensive crime scene resources.
But while I feel that geocaching isn't the real problem, that is what is being used as the driving force to try and punish me. Punishing me for something that was NOT criminal activity, but for something that was a family activity. Sgt. McGinn told me that he has submitted this case to the County Attorney's office and listed off a number of possible charges. I've itemized each of those charges below and then point out the inconsistencies and contradictions as it pertains to this case.
During the first phone call from Sgt. McGinn, Sunday evening, May 17th, 2009, he declared that I violated the Dakota County Parks geocaching policy and that I did not have a permit to place a geocache in the park. Geocaching is an accepted activity in Dakota County parks. Dakota County does not have an official geocaching policy and a permit system certainly does not exist for geocaching.
On a second phone call the afternoon of Wednesday, May 27th, 2009, Sgt. McGinn mentioned that other municipalities have policies and that should have been my guidance for placing the geocache. Obviously, some systems do have policies but the majority of municipalities do NOT. As a Dakota County resident, you cannot reasonably assume I would be responsible for knowing the details about all of the policies in other systems unless I were to visit those systems and place a geocache in said system. As of today, I have not hidden a geocache within a municipal system that has a geocaching policy, with the exception of State Forests, and in that case, I have followed the policy to the tee.
Sgt. McGinn says that he could cite me for leaving personal property within the park. Since geocaching is an accepted activity in the parks and because my geocache was officially listed on geocaching.com, one can reasonably assume that if the other 52 geocaches in Lebanon Hills are exempt from that ordinance that my geocache is exempt as well. Not only are there 52 geocaches placed in Lebanon Hills, there are a number of puzzle geocaches NOT listed as being in the park but really are in the park. And that does not even mention the geocaches residing in the remaining county park properties such as Spring Lake, Miesville, Byllesby, etc.
Sgt. McGinn goes on to say that my Halloween themed geocache probably would have been accepted had it been there only during the Halloween season. While that may be his opinion, it still contradicts the published park policy. It also would have violated the geocaching.com policy on temporary geocache placement.
Sgt. McGinn tried to convince me that the geocache was covered with soil and if it was, where did that soil come from? What he is probably basing that on is that while he was investigating me, he found my website where I've published pictures of the geocache. What he saw was a thumbnail picture of the geocache covered with leaves, but the leaves have no definition in the photograph when it is sized down to a thumbnail. If he had actually clicked on the photograph to view it in its actual size, he would have clearly seen the (dead) leaves on the geocache and not soil. You can also go directly to where the geocache was placed in the park and find NO changes to the earth or the surrounding vegetation. The very photograph on the Sheriff's last newsletter proves that the geocache was not covered with soil and that it was certainly not buried.
I am not certain how this can be applied when geocaching is an accepted activity in the park. Of the 52 geocaches listed in the park, all of which I've found, not one resides directly on a trail. There is electronic evidence on geocaching.com that park officials have even visited geocaches in the park and logged them as found, which in essence, an acceptance that it happens. In addition, orienteering is also a commonly accepted activity in the park and the very nature of orienteering is to cross country off trail. The park system sponsors orienteering events and in fact, it was an orienteer that stumbled upon my geocache when he was off course.
Using the same definition as leaving personal property, if geocaching is sanctioned by the county park system, and the geocache is officially listed and approved on geocaching.com (which has its own set of guidelines and requirements), this cannot be considered littering. In addition, Dakota County Parks has worked directly with the MN Geocaching Association in the past to sponsor Cache In Trash Out (CITO) events within our parks. There are two known events to have taken place in the past in addition to the immeasurable amount of trash that the average geocacher carries out on their own accord. It is not uncommon for a geocacher to clean an entire area of glass, cans, blow in debris, etc. while finding or hiding a geocache.
Sgt. McGinn mentioned that if the other ordinances didn't apply, he could apply this ordinance to a possible citation. The county park usage guidelines list amusement contraptions as the following:
"Amusement Contraption means any contrivance, device, gadget, machine, or structure designed to test the skill or strength of the user or to provide the user with any sort of ride, lift, swing, or fall experience including, but not limited to, ball throwing contest devices, electronic videos, animal ride devices, dunk tanks, ball and hammer devices, trampoline devices and the like."
I can assure you that my geocache is not a contraption by that definition. It was constructed of natural and untreated wood (cedar). It doesn't require a skill to use, it doesn't make any noise, and it certainly does not contain any self moving parts.
Dakota County Park Policy
2030 Dakota County Park System Plan
Front Row volume 4 week 49, the Sheriff's Department Newsletter
It would be ideal if the county took this moment as an opportunity to improve the park system for all involved rather than using this issue as a means to prove a point. It might be especially important for them to have some common sense and understanding at a time when the County Attorney's office really needs to mend public opinion of itself. I've offered myself and the services of the Minnesota Geocaching Association as resources in the future of geocaching within Dakota County Parks. I am hoping that it falls on receptive ears.
I want to thank you all for the support you've provided. I am certain that I've probably over dramatized this issue. Let's just hope that common sense prevails.